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Palestinians, Israelis, and Peace

When, if ever, will Palestinians and Israelis make peace?  Is the conflict intractable?  Or could new leaders (perhaps some of them SEGL graduates) with new ideas find a breakthrough?  These questions, and many others, made up our third case study of the fall.  Along the way, we met with two key leaders (another will meet with us next month) whose work continues to impact the conflict.

Our students began with SEGL’s account of Israeli-Palestinian history: the competing promises of T.E. Lawrence and the Balfour Declaration, the competing boundaries in 1948, 1967, and today, the competing visions for the future within Israel and within the Palestinian leadership.  This historical account makes every attempt to be unbiased, but we also told the students that many observers on both sides would want to add, subtract, or edit each PowerPoint slide we shared.  Skeptical eyes and ears are a must in this area of study!

(Another SEGL truism: if, after a case study, you want to hear a view different from the ones presented, say something!  If there is enough interest, we can often arrange for a supplementary speaker later in the semester; if there is not enough interest, any interested student can set up her or his own meetings during a free period.)

On Wednesday, we welcomed Elad Strohmeyer, spokesperson for the Israeli Embassy in DC.  Strohmeyer presented an Israeli-centric view of not only the conflict, but the government’s view of the Trump Administration, the recent choice to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, and other current hot topics.  He also shared his passion for LGBTQ rights in Israel.

On Friday we met with Ghaith al-Omari, a former top advisor to Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas and a negotiator (across the table from Aaron David Miller) in the 2000 Camp David peace talks (he is also the 2015 winner of the SEGL Golden Mug Award).  Al-Omari, who now works with the American Task Force on Palestine and the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, shared stories and strategies from his time as a negotiator.  For example, it is not enough to negotiate so that your side “wins.”  You must also ensure that the speech your “opponent” gives to her people allows her to claim victory as well–otherwise, the deal will fall through.  (To read a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed that al-Omari co-wrote, click here.)

Next month, we will travel to the Woodrow Wilson Center (a leading DC think-tank) to meet with the noted expert (and advisor to six Secretaries of State) Aaron David Miller.  Miller will help provide context for the current status of the conflict and answer questions about his time as a lead negotiator for the U.S. (for example, at the 2000 Camp David II discussions).  He is fond of a memorable piece of advice drawn from John F. Kennedy that SEGL students would do well to consider: when asked about his political leanings, Kennedy said “I am an idealist without illusions.”

As you might expect, the three viewpoints are quite varied, and students reported feeling convinced by each speaker’s strong arguments.  In our culminating discussion on Friday, several noted how valuable it was to hear the side they had understood less.

Learning how to ask tough-but-respectful questions and how to discuss the most deeply-felt of issues is an essential part of leadership, and it is an essential part of an SEGL education.

Three other highlights:

On Wednesday morning, the students took part in an SEGL classic–the “Leadership Styles” exercise.  With two questions (“Is your first instinct to observe or speak when in a decision-making group?”  “When you make important decisions, do you prefer your head or your heart?”) the students divided themselves up into four classic leadership styles: Driver, Expressive, Analyst, and Supportive. Each group completed the same given task, but ended up with very different results; the ensuing conversation revealed, among other insights, the importance of having each style reflected in any decision making group (or, perhaps, in any decision making leader!).

On Thursday morning, a large group of students sat in on the Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court hearings.  They got to see some heated political theater and some important exchanges.  Along the way the students got a real-life lesson in the pros and cons of civil disobedience, leading to conversations and reflections that will no doubt echo throughout the semester and beyond.

And from last week: several students went to pay respects to the late Senator John McCain, who lay in state in the U.S. Capitol building before his memorial service at the National Cathedral.  Though photos were not allowed inside the Rotunda, we snapped a few just outside as the students signed his guest book.

We’re proud of how our students handled this week (they continue to discuss its many questions this weekend) and looking forward to next week’s challenge: the Rwandan genocide.

Sep 9, 2018

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